May 2, 2019

Dateline: Portland, Oregon

I got myself up this morning, poured coffee down my throat and hopped an Uber from my hotel to the Oregon Convention Center for the annual meeting of the American Geriatrics Society. I used to attend it pretty much every year, but as my career has wandered off the fast track of academic prominence over the last twenty years, it’s become less of a priority in life and I don’t think I’d been for at least a decade.

There was a time when I was starting to make a mark on a national level in academic geriatrics with research and symposia and posters and the like but life threw me a few curve balls over the year. I took myself off the fast track when Steve got sick and died as my energies were needed elsewhere in life. When I returned to that level of engagement in the first few years that Tommy and I were together, I found that I no longer had the fire for that kind of activity that I once had had and, over the years, I quietly disconnected myself from the kind of work that gets you noticed outside of your own institution in favor of the life that Tommy and I ended up creating together. One that gave us the time to be creative and better our local community with our endeavors. I’m too old now to get back in that game and have been out of those circles for far too long so you’re unlikely to see my name on something in the New England Journal of Medicine soon. Someone has to do the basic clinical work that keeps UAB Geriatrics and the Birmingham VA’s rural home based primary care programs up and running. Still, I’ve run into colleagues I haven’t seen in some years with whom I’ve collaborated on national projects in the past and I never say never when it comes to life events as you can never predict what strange twists of fate life has in store.

Plenary Sessions always look the same

I spent from 8 until about 3:30 in various plenary sessions picking up some new nuggets of wisdom and then i was meetinged out and couldn’t take much more so I tiptoed out of the convention center and had a nice walk through downtown, ending up at Powell’s City of Books. For those who’ve never been to Portland, Powell’s is an enormous independent bookstore that carries pretty much everything. The closest equivalent I can think of is Foyle’s in London. Thinking of suitcase weight and shelf space at home, I didn’t go crazy but I did buy a couple of volumes to add to the ever growing pile on my nightstand. Then more walking back to the hotel and a burrito bowl dinner. Now I’m ensconced with HBO and writing a bit before going to sleep and lather, rinse, repeat in the morning.

Powell’s City of Books

My first trip to AGS was in 1992, 27 years ago, in San Francsico. I was doing my fellowship at UC Davis in Sacramento at the time so it wasn’t much of a trip. Steve and I would go down to SF about once a month for a weekend and this gave us an excuse to go for a bit longer. At the time the American Geriatrics Society (the medical group) and the Gerontological Society of America (the study of aging group) decided to hold their annual meetings back to back so it was a nine day marathon. I was completely fried by day five as were pretty much the rest of the attendees and they wisely separated them for the good of all. AGS in early May and GSA in early November. I don’t remember a lot about that first meeting. I just remember being there. The first meeting I remember was a year or two later in New Orleans. I had a poster accepted and it was my first presentation to the geriatrics world at large. Steve and I had never been to NOLA and we had a blast. The meeting was in a big old turn of the century hotel. There was a second meeting in the other half of the conference center, the Southeastern Society of morticians. The geriatricians and morticians being together in the elevators for three days made for an interesting dynamic.

I wish I could think of something truly exciting that happened at an AGS meeting, but I can’t. They tend to follow a pattern. Lectures, plenary symposia, posters, exhibit hall, catch up with colleagues in a see and be seen way. My big takeaway from this one is that American society is in no way ready for the demographic changes that are going to hit in another decade as the boom enters its 80s. Thank god I’ll be retiring. I don’t want to be the one who has to cope.

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